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Understanding Animal Hospice

Gail & Richard Pope with Sasha (cat) & Lily

BrightHaven is a leader in the emerging field of animal hospice. We have been through the dying experience with more than 600 animals and are proud to share what we’ve learned from our experiences along the way.

PLEASE NOTE: We at BrightHaven are not veterinarians and are therefore not qualified to give you professional veterinary advice. We have, however, been helping our animals holistically for many years, aided by numerous talented professional practitioners.

Always consult your family veterinarian in matters concerning the health of your animals. Any sign of pain in your animal should be immediately addressed with your veterinarian.

Hospice became a way of life at BrightHaven as we have cared for hundreds of senior and special-needs animals since 1990. In doing so, we have learned so much about love and the circle of life from our animal loved ones. We focus on achieving a state of wellness, joy or balance whether for continued life or for transition. At BrightHaven we concentrate on helping the “being” to be the best they can possibly be, regardless of age, illness, or type of being – human or animal!

Our hospice care is very much aligned with hospice care for humans where love, comfort, dignity and quality of life are of the highest importance, and the spiritual aspect of the journey is highly honored. We strongly encourage anyone interested in learning about animal hospice to first read more on many available websites on the subject of death and dying including the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the Hospice Foundation of America (HFA).

For BrightHaven’s definition of animal hospice, we invite you to visit https://www.brighthaven.org/what-is-animal-hospice/.

The BrightHaven Animal Hospice Philosophy

As you can see here from our animal hospice guiding statement, although BrightHaven’s primary focus is on preparing for and achieving a natural death, we are certainly not opposed to euthanasia:

At BrightHaven, when an animal enters hospice care our expectation is that the animal will have a painless, loving, peaceful journey followed by a painless, loving, peaceful & natural death.

 If a place is reached during that journey where the caregiver, the veterinarian AND the animal, believe the animal to be in need of critical assistance, then euthanasia will be used.

We also believe that every animal caregiver should have as much information as possible to help them make the best choices for their animal and unique situation. You can learn more about our animal hospice philosophy on this page: https://www.brighthaven.org/animal-hospice/our-animal-hospice-philosophy/.

Interestingly, it is a true statement that if we are not dead, then we are actually ALIVE, and BrightHaven’s emphasis is to care for the being for their entire journey of being alive. This is a very different approach than the focus of caring for the dying…

Healing vs. Cure

From BrightHaven’s perspective, there’s a difference between curing and healing. Curing is typically thought of as achieving the absence of symptoms. Conventional medicine uses medication, surgery or other forms of external intervention to attain this outcome. However, it is important to keep in that the suppression of symptoms does not always mean the underlying causes of a disease have been addressed. 

Holistic medicine looks at healing as an internal process, focused on becoming whole. It is all about restoring the balance and harmony to the body, mind and spirit by igniting and working with the body’s natural healing abilities. This approach yields many benefits, including resolution of symptoms. A cure occurs when the body is able to fully heal itself.  

At BrightHaven, our goal is always for healing for the highest good of the patient, which may or may not include a cure. For some, the healing experience we offer brings about improved health and a new-found love of life. For others, healing is a necessary preparation to complete the circle of life, death and the journey beyond.

Additional key points:

Joey enjoying a bubble bath
  • One of our most important recommendations: Educate yourself – knowledge reduces fear and increases conscious decision making, and in turn may minimize regrets. Here are a number of pertinent topics to help you find your way:
  • We developed our healing approach by following the wisdom of the animals. They’ve clearly shown us that positive changes to diet and other aspects of healthcare can significantly improve one’s health and wellbeing regardless of one’s current situation.
  • A great place to begin is diet! Feeding an appropriate diet is one of the best ways to maximize your animal’s health and wellbeing, as food provides the body with its primary energy and nutritional source.
    • Every single feline and canine resident at BrightHaven, regardless of age or physical condition, ate a natural diet. Even the oldest animals typically showed a remarkable improvement that may have included shiny eyes, lustrous fur and increased energy, when switched from a conventional method of feeding.
  • Drugs and vaccines may have potential side effects – it’s important to ask questions and become informed.
  • Love is an essential and powerful part of the healing process!
  • Care approach – what best suits your needs?
    • Holistic medicine treats the entire being: body, mind, emotions and spirit. “Dis–ease” denotes an “out of ease” or unbalanced state. Often, holistic approaches can detect problems at the dis-ease state and correct the imbalance before serious illness sets in.
    • Conventional (allopathic) medicine focuses on treating and eliminating symptoms. This approach is typically the fastest line of defense in acute situations, such as emergencies and trauma of all sorts.
    • Integrative medicine includes a partnership between patient and practitioner along with the appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods.  
  • Helpful definitions of different types of care:
    • Palliative/comfort care: The goal of palliative care is achievement of the best quality of life for patients and their families. It’s not the same as hospice as it doesn’t only serve the dying. Instead, palliative care focuses on improving life and providing comfort at different stages of life involving serious, chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
    • Hospice care: This type of care includes palliative care and also involves a team approach, existing to provide support and care for patients in the last phases of incurable disease, or at the natural end of life. Hospice incorporates all of palliative care, and is defined as a philosophy, a specialized program of care, and in some instances, an actual place for the dying.
      • The main difference between hospice care and other end-of-life care is that hospice care does not foresee euthanasia in the future but focuses on a peaceful and gentle, natural death. After all, life itself is terminal.
      • Of course, if an animal in hospice care takes a turn for the worse, it is quite permissible to make the decision to euthanize, whereas in palliative or end-of-life care euthanasia may be the expected outcome from the start.
      • Remember, too, that it is also possible for an animal in any of these types of care to take a turn for the better. BrightHaven has found this to be the case repeatedly when utilizing holistic methods. Most often BrightHaven animals approaching the end of life experience peaks and valleys in their health and enjoy times when we wonder what lies ahead…

Other helpful information:

Daisy sitting
Darling Daisy
  • Consultations – Do you have questions about how BrightHaven’s holistic healing or animal hospice care approaches can help your animal? Book a consultation with BrightHaven President and Founder Gail Pope by sending an email to consultations@brighthaven.org.
  • Education – Holistic Healthcare – Through love and kindness we have refined our relationship with animals over the years, and from the animals’ teachings an integral structure for holistic care has emerged.
  • Our Vets – BrightHaven is firmly committed to classical veterinary homeopathy and is delighted to introduce some of America’s finest veterinarians with whom we have worked.
  • Blog posts:
  • Books:
    • Follow Your Heart: Navigating a Terminal Diagnosis­ – Helps you walk this often-challenging path with a deeper sense of peace, confidence and clarity. (Author: Gail Pope, BrightHaven President and Founder)
    • The BrightHaven Guide to Animal HospiceLearn how to care for your animal companions to help them grow older gracefully in the best health possible, all the way through the last breath. (Author: Gail Pope, BrightHaven President and Founder)
    • Soar My Butterfly: The Animal Dying Experience – A simple guide to the signs and symptoms you may encounter during the final stages of the natural dying process (Author: Gail Pope, BrightHaven President and Founder)
    • Walking with My Dog Through (End of) LifeAn intimate look at a profound life passage, from terminal diagnosis through hospice care and natural death. (Author: Carol Howe Hulse, BrightHaven Education Program Manager)
  • Online learning:
    • BrightHaven Guide to Animal Hospice: The Gentle Shift – BrightHaven Founders Gail and Richard Pope paint for you a simple picture of their healing philosophy by demonstrating how they progressively learned about holistic healthcare, embraced new concepts and witnessed healing miracles. For instance, they explain what happened when, with great trepidation, they completely changed their trusted commercial diet to one based on raw meat. Gail and Richard also share how a beautiful black cat profoundly shifted their thinking about natural death.
    • BrightHaven Guide to Holistic Animal Hospice: Navigating a Terminal Diagnosis – One of the most difficult things for any animal lover or pet parent to hear is being told by the vet that your animal’s illness is terminal. This course, presented by BrightHaven President and Founder Gail Pope and Education Program Manager Carol Hulse, helps you to navigate this path with a deeper sense of peace, confidence and clarity. It includes a variety of tools to help you to plan and implement the best way forward for your unique situation.
    • BrightHaven Holistic Animal Hospice: Fundamentals – BrightHaven is a leader in the emerging field of animal hospice AND we’re also renowned for our holistic healthcare. We’ve combined these two specialties into this course, presented by BrightHaven President and Founder Gail Pope and Education Program Manager Carol Hulse, as many pet parents and other animal lovers want to learn more about animal hospice in general – and holistic animal hospice care in particular – to help their loved ones live the best life possible each and every day!
    • BrightHaven Guide to Animal Hospice: The Animal Dying Experience – In this two-part course, BrightHaven Founders Gail and Richard Pope, who have been present at more than 600 animal deaths, will take you through the final stages of the animal dying experience and how this very special time of life is approached and honored at BrightHaven. They also offer some practical things that can be done by the caregiver for hospice support, which is focused on the animal’s comfort and wellbeing. You will discover that the dying process and death are nothing to fear, which is one more important life lesson from the animals.
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